By Jeff Walsh
Whoa. I just finished watching what is considered the first “true gay film in Korean cinema,” and if this is how they mark their entrance to world cinema, they are more than welcome to make as many gay movies as they want.
The movie, “No Regret,” apparently shocked Korean audiences when it was first released, and the movie comes out in New York and Los Angeles at the end of July, and in San Francisco at the end of August (check website to see when more cities are added).
Similar to the gay Japanese movie “Boys Love” that I recently reviewed, this is a movie that doesn’t have that cultural take on an old story feel to it. It is a modern, worthwhile movie that depicts the characters’ lives in Seoul, but the emphasis is on story above all else.
Sumin leaves the orphanage where he grew up and goes to Seoul, where to help pay for his studies and cost of living he has to do factory work as well as a second job as a driver. One night, he has to drive Jaemin home. Jaemin is slightly older and rich, and also interested in more than a ride home.
At the hotel, he tries to get Sumin into his room, but fails. The next day, Sumin is laid off from his factory job and on his way out of the factory sees Jaemin, whose family owns the factory. Sumin refuses to get his job back from Jaemin, and instead starts working as a hooker in a karaoke bar.
Thus begins the, well, courtship I guess, of Sumin and Jaemin. Similar to a romantic comedy, it involves Jaemin basically stalking Sumin (although beyond what is acceptable in most romantic comedies, or by the law). Eventually, Sumin realizes Jaemin’s creepy advances are sincere, though, and they begin their life as a couple.
One big obstacle, though, is Jaemin is being set up in an arranged marriage by his mother, who knows he’s gay, doesn’t care if he sleeps with boys on the side╔ but he’s getting married, end of story.
At one point, Jaemin’s mother tells his father about their son’s sexuality, and the scene is shot and played beautifully. We never see his father, or hear a word that is spoken. We only see him approach his father in silhouette, and the next shot is of Jaemin exiting the elevator with a bloody fist. When he exits, we see the mirror cracked behind him, and a scene that could have been filled with cliched dialogue is instead artfully and perfectly staged with everything we need to know.
I will warn people, though. I think the website for this film says too much. I would avoid reading the “Synopsis” section of the film’s official website (the rest looked OK). Stay away from other reviews, too. Going into this film fresh is really for the best.
The performances by Lee Young-Hoon (Sumin) and Lee Han (Jaemin), writing, and directing (by first-time director Leesong Hee-Il) were phenomenal and it is the best gay film I’ve seen in a long time. That, in fact, is entirely too limiting... it is the best film I’ve seen in a long time... gay, straight, mainstream, independent, or any other designation.
You never know where it’s going, but you never lose interest. You root for them to get together, but wonder if it can ever happen. You see there is a connection between them even as they do horrible things to one another. Right up until the end, there are a lot of questions. One minute you wonder if Jaemin will ever be able to say everything he needs to win back Sumin, and only a few minutes later, you think they’re going spend the rest of their lives together.
This movie leaves you laughing, sad, breathless, happy, and completely enthralled from start to finish. If this movie comes to your city, do yourself a huge favor and see it. If it doesn’t, keep watching this site until I tell you the DVD has been released. This is a film not to be missed.